The Pervasive Presence in Asia of ascetic practitioners—whether sedate, shorn, and robed monks or fierce, ash-smeared, naked yogis—has long fascinated Western observers and certainly nourished stereotypes of a mysterious, otherworldly, and impenetrable East. In India especially, the ascetic's figure has fueled the speculations of scholars, artists, tourists, and religious seekers for centuries (Oman 1905; Narayan 1988). Most depictions of Indian culture, whether indigenous or foreign, evocative or analytic, include portraits or analyses of world-renouncers.1 And yet with the notable exception of numerous fictional explorations (e.g., Bhattacharya 1978; Markandaya 1963; R K. Narayan 1980), the renouncer remains a figure whose existence comments on the human predicament but whose human thoughts and feelings remain opaque.

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